A sign of the times in Southeast Michigan is the number of people in the midst of career transitioning. My work at Lawrence Tech University’s College of Management offers me the privilege of meeting a select group of them; those exploring the idea of a career with charitable nonprofits.
They come from all walks of life and represent a wide spectrum of professions; business management, government, marketing, sales, engineering, information technology to name a few. Most are highly skilled with solid work experience and professional achievements. And, they have one thing in common; they want their job to be more meaningful, more connected to their personal values and passion.
This blog will recount my experience working with dozens of people over the last few years exploring a nonprofit career.
My career coaching stems from my work as a professor in the College of Management and as the Director of the Center for Nonprofit Management. As in all educational programs at Lawrence Technology University, it is my job to educate and support a new generation of leaders, in my case, leaders of charitable nonprofit organizations.
In initial coaching sessions, there are three questions commonly asked:
- Why is there a need for a graduate program specifically for charitable nonprofit executives?
- Why hasn’t my business education and work experience already prepared me to be a CEO of a nonprofit?
- How did this program get started at Lawrence Technological University, a place long known for educating successful engineers and architects?
I always enjoy responding to these questions.
The first point is easily addressed by providing recent research on the nonprofit sector, its organizations, revenue and employment, over the last few decades. This information demonstrates tremendous growth in the nonprofit sector.
For example, a 2006 national study identified a 'stunning deficit' in the supply of nonprofit executives over the next ten years. The study concluded that "the projected leadership deficit results from both constrained supply and increasing demand" for executives at nonprofit charitable organizations.1
Various other national institutions have recognized this dramatic growth in the nonprofit sector and sector’s increasing role as a major economic contributor to local and national economies.
Though still significantly smaller in size compared to the business and government sector of our economy, its annual growth has increased much faster. As the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis stated in a recent publication entitled The Economy’s Middle Child2 (Fedgazette, July 2006) "..a major part of the economy, the nonprofit sector is poorly understood and maybe a tad underappreciated……despite the fact that it employs close to one in 10 American workers and has annual revenue in the trillions. You might even nominate it as the nation's most productive sector, given its extensive use of free labor."
Why a business career doesn’t directly translate into a nonprofit career goes directly to the heart of the difference between profit-making versus mission-focused enterprises. This fundamental difference in organizational focus determines uniquely distinctive management competences at charitable nonprofit organizations, which many business professionals are unfamiliar. Management competencies unique to the nonprofit sector include fundraising, board and volunteer management and financial management are examples.
Don’t get me wrong, Lawrence Tech's nonprofit management program was designed with the firm belief that nonprofit managers can learn a lot from the proven business practices, that business professionals are needed in the sector, and will fill the projected shortfall in nonprofit executives.
However, transferring business competencies is best done with an understanding of a mission-focused organization and its unique culture. The graduate program focuses on this transformation and helps a business professional make that transition successfully.
As for how this program took root at a university known for its engineering and architecture programs, it has a lot to do with Lawrence Tech’s vision for the new economy of Southeast Michigan and its entrepreneurial approach to education.
Launched in 2002 by Dr. Robert Inskeep with the support of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the LTU graduate nonprofit management program was created to be part of a traditional school of business management to see how it might address the growing demands placed on nonprofit leaders by government, funders and donors.
Today, there are dozens of people pursuing graduate nonprofit degrees at Lawrence Tech's College of Management for either an MBA with a concentration in nonprofit management or a 12 credit Graduate Certificate in Nonprofit Management and Leadership. Each student receives the support they need to transition or advance their nonprofit careers.
I have also learned that the nonprofit sector is not for everyone. It is best suited for a person with a unique blend of characteristics. In my experience, it takes a person with a strong drive to pursue non-monetary benefits in a job; motivated more by societal than personal monetary gain.
From my perspective these people are risk-takers and entrepreneurs, albeit 'social entrepreneurs'. These people understand what Jim Collins means when he says "I’ve come to see that it is simply not good enough to focus solely on having a great business sector. If we only have great companies, we will merely have a prosperous society, not a great one."3
So, are you one of these types? Have you considered pursing a career with a charitable organization? I mean a permanent, fulltime job that pays a salary and benefits? Let me know your thoughts or any questions you may have.
My next posting will share information on how to evaluate and explore nonprofit career for yourself including current examples of compensation in the sector. I will provide some updated information on the today’s nonprofit sector and where it is headed in the future.